DAKAR, Senegal, Sep 6 – Rules governing African athletes who controversially transfer allegiance to other countries need a full review, the continent’s track and field supremo said Tuesday.
“Rules on nationality changes must be reviewed,” said Hamad Kalkaba Malboum, head of the African athletics federation which is meeting in the Senegalese capital.
“What’s happening in international competitions is troubling everyone.”
There have been a host of east African middle-distance athletes competing for other countries, many in the Gulf but also Turkey and even the United States. Morocco and Nigeria-born athletes are also seen to be running for other countries.
Turkey performed strongly at July’s European Championship in Amsterdam, finishing fourth, but nine of the country’s 12 medals were won by foreigners, featuring mainly Kenyans, but also including a gold for a Cuban transferee, and sprint silvers for a Jamaican and an Azeri.
The most recent stand-out example of an African achieving success under a different flag is Kenyan Ruth Jebet.
Jebet won Bahrain’s first every Olympic medal when she claimed gold in the women’s 3000m steeplechase at the Rio Games and then went on to set a new world record at the Diamond League meet in Paris.
“We want to make stricter the rules on transfers of allegiance,” IAAF president Sebastian Coe said at the time, with Jebet explaining she quit Kenya five years ago for “animal health” studies.
France’s IAAF Council member Bernard Amsalem has been charged with investigating the trade in athletes.
“We’ll go looking for the athletes in mainly Kenya, but also Ethiopia, Morocco, Jamaica a little bit and Nigeria increasingly for the sprinters,” he said.
“Poor countries, in difficulty, it’s easier to turn an athlete from those countries by giving them a lot of money because it represents a lot compared to their daily wage.”
Jebet’s father gave the game away when she was honoured in Kenya for her Olympic gold, thanking her for enabling him to buy a house and cattle.
According to rules of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), an athlete who has competed for one country can only transfer allegiance to another after three years, although intra-federation agreements often see that period shortened.
Speaking in Dakar, Malboum also reiterated his federation’s commitment to the anti-doping fight and the problem of age manipulation among athletes.
There had been a doubling of doping tests at June’s African championships in Durban, Malboum said.
All athletes from Kenya, Ethiopia and Morocco, three countries in the IAAF’s anti-doping crosshairs, had been tested before the Rio Olympics, the Cameroonian official said, without giving details.